Review – Everything Is Strategy In Marvel’s Star Wars: Thrawn #5
This excellent adaptation of Timothy Zahn’s novel, Thrawn, continues to show us how our favorite Grand Admiral climbed his way to the near top of the Empire. Thrawn continues to display the aloof tendency of not necessarily using people in the malicious way, but in ways he calculates will allow him more room to do what is necessary for the Empire – by gaining his own authority and mandate. In this issue, Thrawn moves closer to his faceless adversary, Nightswan. SPOILERS AHEAD….
When we last left Thrawn and Vanto, they were preparing to deal with the Batonn insurgency. It’s in full-swing here, as the Empire storms an island facility. Thrawn and Vanto watch, and as the battle unfolds, it’s clear Thrawn is only here to observe. In his eerie, serene manner, Thrawn tries to understand what his opponents are capable of. The whole attack by the Empire was steered by Thrawn by playing to other Imperial commanders in a subtle way. He got them to carry this out just so he could see how both sides would fight. Also, it gets Thrawn closer to the ever elusive Nightswan.
Thrawn and Vanto watch as a small ship starts to sneak away from Batonn in the heat of the battle. If there’s a sight that will distract whatever space traffic control Batonn has, it can’t be much bigger than a Star Destroyer simultaneously getting blasted with an ion cannon and turbo laser. This doesn’t seem to bother Thrawn, as he’s pretty sure the ship sneaking away is piloted by Nightswan, the criminal he’s been after for some time. Thrawn’s plan is to pose as a weapons smuggler who just raided the base under attack, but he wants Vanto to make contact and board the ship sneaking away, while he sits back and listens in his typical fashion.
Sometimes the best hiding places are in plain sight. Case in point: Thrawn gives Vanto his old Imperial uniform to wear, blaster burn added, while suggesting Vanto bragged he killed an Imperial officer for it. Thrawn’s implanted a transmitter in the insignia so he can listen in and decide what his next move is. Vanto pulls off the role nicely, as you can see in the frame above. Once he’s aboard, the crew waste no time figuring out what the deal is. It only seems odd to me that after such mistrust that they then bring him to Nightswan, a person that has been so mysterious and elusive. For some reason, I remembered the reveal being a bit more grand in the novel, but that’s probably just the difference in medium.
Well, looks like Nightswan is someone we met a few issues back – Nevil Cygni. They’ve met before, but this time Cygni seems to have stepped up his operations. He’s under the impression that Thrawn is trapped on the attack below, and he seems intent on getting into the good graces of Vanto. It’s a very odd interaction, as Vanto seems stuck in the middle of two opponents, neither of whom Vanto can figure out who’s being played.
Nightswan is intrigued by Thrawn because of his history with Anakin Skywalker…and I am too. I think we all are. This summer promises to deliver that story, with Zahn’s follow-up novel Thrawn: Alliances, but I’m puzzled why this matters so much to Nightswan. He seems to think there is some big secret here and that if he can get it out it would stop Thrawn’s rise through the ranks of the Empire. Nightswan’s motive seems to be just to get Thrawn off of his tail, but it seems like a lot of trouble to go through. He hopes it would propel Vanto a little higher up and that he’d potentially have an ally in the Imperial brass.
Vanto helps with a distraction and blows the explosives he disguised as weapons to sell. He makes a quick getaway with the assistance of Thrawn. I was a little confused, because I guess Vanto hadn’t realized he was going after Nightswan. If I remember right, this was the point in the novel where Thrawn’s motives seem especially convoluted. There doesn’t seem to be an end for the means Thrawn employs.
After their encounter with Nightswan, Thrawn is able to gather intelligence that may expose the network Nightswan moves his goods through. Thrawn and Vanto rejoin the Imperials to debrief on the Batonn insurgency. The uprising has been subdued, but Admiral Kinshara doesn’t have a lot to hold his head up about. Thrawn is tasked with finishing off the insurgency and he’s beaten another political adversary in the light of Kinshara’s failure to completely wipe out the remaining enemy ships. Now, Thrawn has his work cut out for him, but has put a plan in place that will reunite him with an old ally.
Pryce is back, accompanied ISB officer Colonel Yularen. Thrawn needs more reconnaissance on the Batonn insurgency and Pryce’s parents live as civilians near the conflict. Pryce agrees to go down to the planet and pose as cluelessly looking for a friend. Thrawn suggests that Pryce prepare herself for the possibility that her parents are part of the insurgency, even though she insists they are loyal to the Empire. I have to say, Thrawn has really added a new depth to the seemingly one-dimensional, villain Pryce came off to be in Rebels. She’s really had to reconcile so many things in her past to get where we met her in Rebels. That’s not to say I feel bad for her, as we’ve seen she made a choice to get deeply involved in the ISB and had several chances to walk away. Still, it’s interesting to see there’s still conflict between her loyalty to family and the Empire.
Yularen takes Vanto aside to question Thrawn’s strange deployment of ships to counter the insurgency. I’d imagined there was a collective of Imperial officers in the high ranks that were skeptical of Thrawn because of his alien heritage. The xenophobic tendencies that one must embrace to rise in the Imperial ranks are not easily hidden, and old men like Yularen must have a baseline level of unease to see a mysterious alien rise so far into the Emperor’s good graces. Yularen baits Vanto to give him anything, and when Vanto only doubles-down on his support of Thrawn, the colonel suggests the young man keep an eye on Thrawn. Yularen and the ISB fascinate me and I’d love to get more stories centered around their methods of operation, as they try to disseminate the ultra-loyalists from those who could stray from the Empire.
Pryce, in disguise, coaxes her parents into helping her gather more Imperail intelligence. She’s accompanied by an ISB agent, but as soon as she can get her parents away from him she warns them of the battle about to go down. She’s desperate to get her parents off the planet, but they are more concerned with their friends and fellow citizens who don’t know a major Imperial battle is imminent. The Pryce parents are horrified at the prospect of many people they know dying in the crossfire and want to warn them. Their daughter makes it clear that the passage she can get off the planet is only for them.
Thrawn finally gets in touch with Nightswan, and it looks like he’s ready for them to come face-to-face. This is another example of the unspoken autonomy Thrawn’s established for himself. I doubt Tarkin or any other Imperial commander would operate like that. This is the kind of thing that makes Thrawn the compelling, odd admiral that he is. I don’t think this is going to end well for Nightswan.
Another great issue in this adaptation. Thrawn is a very meticulous story, and writer Jody Houser continues to bring the details of the story clearly to these pages. It’s easy to get lost in all the moving parts of the novel, so I don’t imagine Houser’s job to have been easy while adapting the characters and plot lines into six issues. The art by Luke Ross and colorist Nolan Woodward just gets better with every issue. These books are must-own material for Thrawn fans, especially if you were a fan of the novel. It’s also a great way to get reacquainted with the story before Thrawn: Alliances is released next month. It’s still exciting to me that Thrawn has been brought into the canon and is being set-up to be a big player in the future of Star Wars storytelling. This issue marks another great Thrawn story.